Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A day at the seaside

Yesterday was beautifully warm, even hot, and when today turned out to be the same - you can never be sure in England - we headed out to the beach with a sandwich and a bottle of water.

The weather has been amazingly good so far this year. There wasn't really much of a winter. It was wet and rainy, with mud everywhere, but never really cold. We've had several really lovely days so far and it is only April.

Apart from the fact that we had to almost strangle Tim to stop him dragging us out of the car and onto the beach, it was wonderful. Sunshine, not enough wind to even call it a breeze, but not the stupifying hot days we sometimes get in July and August. Not too many people on the beach, but enough to make it interesting. Most had a dog - if they didn't they had a metal detector. There seems to be a sudden enthusiasm for detectors. We saw four this morning, all on the beach. They may turn up modern coins, but I can't imagine them finding much in the way of ancient artefacts. There has been a series on "detectorists" on tv recently, and it seems to have inspired men to try it. I passed a man with one beeping away in the woods near the castle not so long ago, and asked him if he'd found anything. A few modern coins, he said with a grin. "And some tin cans."

I love taking wellies to the beach as that means I can splodge in the shallows without my feet turning blue or getting wet. It also keeps the sand out of shoes. One thing I remember well from childhood is Clarke's sandals, so hopeless on beaches. Two paces, and the sand seeped in and made lumps and bumps beneath your feet.So uncomfortable you had to stop and empty the sand out, and then start again. The only answer was to take the wretched things off, and then - you've guessed it  - your feet slowly turned blue with cold.
  Tim ran in and out trying to eat the waves but disliking the taste and soon got wet. Didn't deter him though. We walked for a good two hours with a short pause to eat the sandwich I'd made and then turned for home. Now I'm happy to sit at my computer and so dome work, and Tim is asleep behind me. Peace!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Craigsmuir Affair

A busy week over - appointments made and kept with Dentist, Optician, Medical practice and we've had the kitchen re-vinyled, and the living room and stair-plus-landing re-carpeted. We're looking spick and span, smell of new carpets and we're good for another twenty years now.

With the help of my friends in the critique group I've finally hit on a title for my story about Daisy - wait for it - THE CRAIGSMUIR AFFAIR.
Here's the first page to hopefully whet your appetite:

Setting and period: Clennell Castle, Northumberland, 1893

Daisy Charlton swept the sheaf of papers into her arms, cast a final glance around the small room that had been her work place for the last week and then closed the door behind her. She hurried along the gallery toward the stairs, swung one-handed around the newel post and scampered down the first steps to the main body of the library.

Someone below snapped a newspaper straight.

Diverted, she looked down. Sun-browned hands held the newspaper open in such a way that she could see nothing of him but legs clad in riding breeches and knee-high brown leather boots. Her feet tangled in the folds of her long skirt. Her stomach lurched, she stumbled, missed the shallow tread of the stair and turned her ankle on the edge of the next.


She grabbed for the banister, missed and pitched forward. Her precious papers sprang into the air and fluttered around her like a cloud of newly released doves. As her hip and shoulder collided with the shallow tread of the stairs, Daisy yelped, bounced and rolled down the stairs.
‘Good God!’ The sound of crushed newspaper followed the exclamation.

Daisy struck hard, was caught and held. Dazed, she inhaled the mixed scents of smoky sandalwood, starched linen and something spicy like black pepper. A steady, rhythmic thud sounded in her ear. When she opened her eyes, the pin tucks of her white blouse pressed against the fawn moleskin of a gentleman’s waistcoat. Her right hand clutched the rough tweed of his sleeve. Her left, trapped behind her, trailed on the parquet floor.

She drew a deep, shivery breath. The pressure of his hand on her ribcage increased and his upraised knee held her spine at an awkward angle. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, Daisy nudged the pale silk of his cravat with her head. ‘I cannot move.’

‘I beg your pardon.’ His voice was deep and warm. ‘But if I let go, you will fall to the floor.’
She tilted her head and frowned at the lean, handsome face above her. To struggle free would be undignified. ‘I do not know you, sir. What if someone were to come into the library and find us like this?’

‘I suppose I should have to marry you.’ His smile held mischief. ‘Are you sure you have no injuries?’

‘Until you release me I cannot tell.’ The words came out more snappishly than she intended. Heat rose in her cheeks; she bit her lip. For Heaven’s sake! He would think her an idiot, probably laughed at her, but was too kind to show it.

He raised both hands in the air.

As he had predicted, Daisy slid from his upraised knee to the floor. She landed with an undignified grunt. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Writing Style

69 Pages of edit done. Don't know how many more to do, but I'm less than half way through. Interesting to see how many small duplications there are, usually between the end of a chapter  the beginning of the next. Writing the story I tend to write in chapters, and so I have a sort of mental break between ending one and starting the next. That's where the duplication creeps in as I don't recall precisely how I ended the chapter and begin the new without checking. There's a lesson there somewhere!

I'm reading Extraordinary People by Peter May at the moment. It's an Enzo MacLeod story set in France and the story visits Paris, Cahors, and the Correze - all places I've visited, which always adds an extra frisson to a read. But I am astonished at the amount of location description I'm reading. My critique partners would be telling me to cut some of it. They often highlight my use of -ing endings, too, and yet Mr May uses them such a lot. One sentence stopped me dead because he had used two, one following the other. I am enjoying the story and don't mind his writing style. It is just interesting how often a successful writer's style contravenes what the writing gurus on the internet say we should do to achieve success. I think it is a little like a healthy diet - in spite of all the experts telling us to eat this and avoid that, eating everything in moderation is probably the best route. Likewise with gerunds and adjectives.

Spring is beautiful this year. We still have primroses in shady places among the trees, daffodils are dancing in the wind, and the cherry blossom is coming into bloom. Gorse is vibrant with yellow flowers and the leaves are bursting open on the trees and presenting a soft bloom of various shades of green. Garlic is rampant and green among the bluebells, neither of which have produced flowers yet, but it won't be long now.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Take a Break

We've had a week of splendid weather and I've spent a lot of it outdoors, so writing has taken a back seat. Considering it's only April, the weather has been amazing, reaching temperatures of 20 and 21 degrees. I'm so not used to such heat that working at anything was a trial! The forecasters claim the weekend is going to be cold, so I tell myself I'll catch up then.

Sometimes I need a break from working at the computer day after day. I get some relief every day now I have my dog, because he's a high energy type who needs a lot of exercise. He gets three walks every day and he's just impossible if he doesn't get those walks. While I'm out with him I see how much new growth there is on trees and shrubs, even on the meadows as the grass begins to grow again. The range of colours in tree foliage is beautiful and changes day by day. Watching him bound across streams, leap fallen logs and bouncing through mud patches is such a joy.

But sometimes the three walks a day are not enough and the temptation to abandon the computer becomes too much. So I give in to it, because I know that I won't produce anything worth while until I've refreshed my mind by pulling lots of fresh oxygen into my lungs. There's nowhere better for that than walking in forests.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Do surveys help book sales?

Everyone said it, but I didn't really believe it. Now I think it may be true. The book world is changing. What brought me to this momentous conclusion? I've been looking at Alison Morton's  survey :

and I did not see library or bookshop mentioned anywhere. I shall go back and read again just to be sure I didn't skim over the words. Skim reading is a diabolical habit of mine - so often I miss the important bit and have to go back and find it!

I think I knew the worst about video trailers. Hardly anyone watches them and that is a pity because, like Alison, I enjoy making them. I did the first one six or seven years ago when I knew very little about the process, and didn't own Photoshop software. Off and on over these last few weeks I've been editing photographs in order to make a trailer for Abduction of the Scots Queen - but now I think Why Bother? Then my other side kicks in and argues Why Not? I've done a fair bit of work on the pics so far, and I may as well garner  what I can from what now seems to have been a time-wasting project.

I must take down few video trailers  I have up on You tube. They look so amateurish I cringed when I checked them today! Or maybe I can re-vamp them somehow. Strangely enough the worst one has the largest view count - perhaps people recommended it as what not to do!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Titles are the Worst

Corbridge from the river bank
DH is safely returned from his trip to Oz and has dutifully gone off to restock our fridge and freezer. He has lots of scope as the household was down to bare shelves and empty cupboards. While he was away I imagined I would get lots of writing done, but that was not the case. I had so much more to do! Grocery shopping, empty the dishwasher, fill the dishwasher, cook every night, put the waste bins out, hoover and mop the kitchen floor now and then to keep the dog hair down, gardening - all things dh does. So now he's back, I may have more time for writing!

I have reached the end of Daisy's story - still without a title. There's polishing and editing to do, but essentially, it is finished. In 1893 Daisy dreams of a career as an artist but runs up against the rock that is Adam Grey, who distrusts women and thinks wives should not work outside the home. This immediately means Daisy must decide if she want s love and marriage or to fulfil her dreams. When a valuable painting goes missing in the country house where they are both guests, Adam turns detective and Daisy decides to help him if only to prove that she is not the thief as Adam initially believes.
Corbridge from the bridge

After several misleads and red herrings, they discover the culprit. They may have fallen in love but barriers remain between them. Daisy fights for her right to have a career, and Adam still cannot get over his distrust of women.

Now comes the tricky thing of deciding to publish it myself, or try for a publishing house.
I also need a title, always a problem.
Barriers to Love is a possibility.
Or, The Art of Love. Artistic Circles? Blinded by Love?
 Suggestions on a post card please!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Google and energy

"The energy it takes to conduct ten 
searches on Google could power a 60-Watt light bulb for nearly three minutes. At any one time the energy used by the search engine could power 200,000 homes. Think of that the next time you go searching for sneezing pandas and performing hamsters." (NY Times, 2011)

I haven't actually searched for sneezing hamsters, but I do watch some of these animal videos and I have wondered about the energy used for all these electronic gadgets in use today. I pass people with a phone glued to their ear or busily fingering away on it while walking their dog. The dog does mainly what it likes as the owner's attention is certainly elsewhere. People walk around supermarket shelves talking to someone on the phone, and it's not always a conversation about which brand of cornflakes to buy. It's embarrassing. You try not to listen but the conversation can be heard two aisles away. Who is actually invading whose privacy?

Every home is in the western world has at least one computer, perhaps two or three or seven given the proliferation of laptops and ipads. What happens when the population that currently doesn't own one finally does? How many more millions will search on Google for those elusive sneezing hamsters? Will it mean electronic collapse? All that electricity has to come from somewhere, and at the moment it comes from power stations, themselves powered by fossil fuels which as we all recognise, are finite and dwindling.

Perhaps I won't watch those animal videos any more. They usually make me cry anyway. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Cutting losses

After much thinking I've decided to cut my losses on Viking Magic. It received one one-star review and once the review went up, sales dried up and never recovered. Amazon won't remove the review, so I am removing the book. It isn't easy to "unpublish" something, but we'll see how it goes. Onward and upward, as every writer learns to say.

Thankfully my latest wip is going well and should be ready soon. It is nothing to do with Vikings, but set in late Victorian Northumberland and London where manners count and ladies didn't dare attempt a career if they wished to marry and raise a family.

All I need now is a title, a cover and a final, final edit!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Riveting reads

Currently reading JoJo Moyes. Enjoyed Me Before You a couple of years ago, and  bought a couple of her titles at the supermarket last week expecting a good read. Sheltering Rain and Ship of Brides. Galloped through SR and enjoyed it but for feeling that the Kate character was a bit wet - but then, aren't we all from time to time? Loved the leaky old house, the old woman and her horse, and Sabine, the rebellious teenager.

But SofB is a different story. (Sorry, pun unintended) I cannot find an interest in any of the characters. It may be a true story, or a fictionalised version of a true story, but that doesn't make it a riveting read for me. Others may well think it's great, especially if grandparents turned out to be one of the Aussie war brides.

Strange how one tale grips and another doesn't. Same author, same writing style, format and price. Content is the thing that matters here, and it is an interesting pointer for all authors. As a reader I'm disappointed in my purchase; as a writer, I'm experiencing first hand why one title takes off and another flops. I have to say, knowing that someone as popular as Moyes can have a book I don't like much, is quite uplifting. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. What it says to me is that it  can happen to anyone, and that is comforting to me.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Historical romance v Historical novel

Nicola Cornick has recently written an interesting blog piece about historical romance versus historical novels.

Her lovely blog stimulated me to sort out my views on the subject.
I think both extreme ends of the range of books set in a historical period are easily recognised and acknowledged by all, but it is the section in the middle where controversy rages.

On the far left we have category romance, where the romance is the only thing the author and the reader, presumably, is interested in. Category romance specifically does not want sub-plots and sub-characters running off and doing interesting things, taking interest away from the hero and heroine. The author must focus on the couple in question. These days, interest does not stop at the bedroom door. More and more blow-by-blow encounters are detailed inside the bedroom - or the equivalent. It must be an age thing, but four and five pages of these encounters often have me skipping over them. But I digress. My taste in sex scenes may be a little less graphic, but that isn't what the post is about.

The other extreme is of course the literary end. These books are often three and four times longer and detail all sorts of other things beside the central romance - if there is one. C J Sansom manages to write almost 450 pages without a central romance featuring at all and I love his books. Cornwell's Sharpe has a few stabs at romance but there is so much more about daring-do, war and skullduggery. Writers like Forester, Clements, Winston Graham, Mitchell, Gabaldon and Parrish follow a similar pattern as we head towards the more middle of the range works.

This where the lines blur. Readers will put authors  in differing places on the line. Some will say Gabaldon is literary because she has great swathes about the American War of Independence in her Outlander series. So did Mitchell in Gone with the Wind, but in both those books, the central theme is the love affair between Claire and Jamie, and Scarlett and Rhett. We could be very analytical about it and put every title on a sliding scale of romance v literary-ness, but who has the time? Certainly not me! It is a task for each reader according to their personal taste, should they chose to do it.

The other thing that affects the argument is the male-female reading bias. In general terms, though not everyone fits into these divisions, men like action, women like romance. Men like tighter writing, women want feelings explained. Men's reviews still  seem to have more kudos than those written by women. Men, of course, review the Sansom, Forester, Cornwell "serious" type of historical novel. Perhaps they write better reviews? I don't think I've seen this type of historical novel reviewed by a woman, but they must, surely? If not, they ought to.

PS ~ Perhaps Byron had the answer when he said "Man's love is of man's life a part; it is a woman's whole existence." Follow that through and you have an answer to the basic question, though you may not like it.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Remarkable Poldark

The new version of Poldark aired on Sunday night. Facebook is full of people's reactions, mostly in favour of the new version, but with a minority who insist the older version was better.
 I have to admit I can barely remember the original version, though I know I admired Robin Ellis. I spent a lot of holidays in Cornwall and the scenery was a draw. The costumes were romantic, too. I was never certain about Rees as Demelza. Entertaining she undoubtedly was but she never looked like a heroine to me. Too small, always dwarfed by that silly floppy cap she used to wear. In the new version, I'm still not happy with Demelza. This girl is too big - oh, I know, I'm never happy! - but really, she is almost taller than Ross. If they stood side by side, she probably would be. She also looks like a mature woman from her first scenes - and yet Ross calls her a child. In the book she was thirteen. I once sent a story to an American publisher and was told they wouldn't take it because the heroine was too young at fourteen for the sexier aspects of the story. So far, Demelza's age hasn't been mentioned in the tv production, but she looks about eighteen. Yet Ross thinks she's a child. Credibility gap?

I love Aidan Turner in most things, and think he is fine in this. I like his sudden irritation with Elizabeth when she says he must forget her as she will marry Francis, then asks if they can be friends. He turns on her with a roar of pain and fury. But I keep looking at that scar - surely they could have done it with more skill? His costume changes are interesting - he has finery for weddings, but often wears faded coats and shirts and neck ties that look as if they've been worn for days on end - and probably have! Costumes have improved so much these days. Demelza, on the other hand, never gets out of her brother's rags during the entire first episode! She and Elizabeth soldered together might make one nicely rounded woman. Both actresses are stick thin.

I wondered if they would keep Jud's way of speaking -  "tisn't fair, tisn't right, tisn't decent. tisn't nice" - and they have! Prudie did so very well to run all the way to the big house while Carne battered Ross into the floor. She should enter for the Olympics - Ross needed a horse to get home from Trenwith to Nampara on his first night home. Prudie got there before the fighting finished. A truly remarkable athlete in spite of her size.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Best sellers of 2014

Here's the list of best selling books of 2014
Top Five Books of 2014 (e-book sales, print, and combined sales)

1 The Fault in Our Stars Green, John Penguin May-12 392,522 871,815 1,264,337
2 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix May-12 409,113 529,602 938,715
3 Awful Auntie Walliams, David HarperCollins Children's Sep-14 19,493 553,921 573,414
4 Minecraft: The Official Construction Handbook Egmont Mar-14 0 548,017 548,017
5 The One You Really Want Mansell, Jill Review Feb-08 540,648 39 540,687

Top Five Books of 2013 (e-book sales, print, and combined sales)

1 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix May-12 411,163 627,097 1,038,260
print.2 Inferno Brown, Dan Transworld May-13 328,960 640,676 969,636
3 My Autobiography Ferguson, Alex Hodder & Stoughton Oct-13 44,292 803,084 847,376
4 The Hundred-Year-Old Man... Jonasson, Jonas Hesperus Jul-12 462,608 223,966 686,574
5 The Fast Diet Mosley & Spencer Short Books Jan-13 174,129 497,200 671,329

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars sold 392,522 copies in e-book and 871,815 across all editions in print. That's a combined sale of 1.26m. what's worrying is that I've never heard of it. 
Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl sold 939k. This one Iread and enjoyed. Excellent premise.

Both Green and Flynn's titles, both published in May 2012, benefited from popular film adaptations released during 2014.
Jill Mansell's The One You Really Want and Harlan Coben's The Woods make the combined chart's top 10 with scarcely any print numbers.

In 2014, e-books weighed in at 6.8m, claiming 36% of the chart's overall volume of 18.8m units. In 2013, e-books claimed 30% of the overall volume of 18.2m. That's a growth of 22% in digital over print, which sounds good since most of my stuff is available in e-format.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Baronetage

A baronet is not a peer. The title is a hereditary honour descending from father to son. Thus Thomas Wharton was given the honour by Henry VIII and thereafter stuck Sir in front of his name and Bt after it, If he had no son, the title would become extinct. If a later holder of the title sires no son, the title descends to the nearest male descendant of a former holder.

 A baronet's wife takes the title Lady with her surname, thus Lady Wharton. She is not entitles to be called The Lady Wharton. The is not generally used now, but was once in general use - historical authors take note!

A baronet is addressed by his title and forename ie Sir Thomas. In writing you would address him as Sir, and his wife as Madam. The envelope would be  formally addressed to Sir Thomas Wharton,bt and for his wife: Lady Wharton.

Widows  retain the style until the succeeding baronet marries. The new wife takes the title and the  widow adopts The Dowager Lady Wharton. If she marries again, she takes the same status as her new husband. In other words, if she marries a commoner, then she becomes Mrs Jane Harris or whatever. Until re-marriage they are addressed  by forename and title. Children of baronets have no titles. They are plain Mr and Miss.

Went up the hill for a walk today and almost blew away. Beautiful and bright, but the wind! Tears ran down my cheeks!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Those titles....

Courtesy Titles can be fun or sheer hell, depending on your Point of View.
Here's a real life example: The 8th Duke of Devonshire died without issue. His heir was the eldest son of his brother, Lord Edward Cavendish, who had predeceased him. As long as the 8th duke lived his heir presumptive (Victor Cavendish) had no title, nor of course had his two brothers. But when Mr Victor Cavendish succeeded to the dukedom, his brothers became Lord Richard and Lord John Cavendish. His mother, however, remained Lady Edward Cavendish.
It is interesting that even though Victor would have inherited had his father, Lord Edward, succeeded to the dukedom, these privileges cannot be claimed as a right. They are given by favour of the Crown and warrants are granted in such cases only upon the recommendation of the Home Secretary.

(I am using capitals as used by Titles and Forms of Address. The use of capitals where royalty and the nobility are concerned in fiction is food for a whole other post.)

I have difficulty with hereditary barons and baronets. Barons and Baronesses make up the fifth and final grade of the peerage, ie the lowest in rank. The confusion possibly comes from the Scottish peerage created in Scotland before the Act of Union in 1707, and the installation of Life Peers; but before we digress,  lets look at English barons.

All of this rank are known as Lord or Lady with the exception of peeresses in their own right who may choose to be called Baroness. The title is sometimes territorial, sometimes a family name and sometimes something made up for the purpose. An example might be Baron West, with a family name of Sunderland. In speech these people are addressed as lord and lady or baroness. In writing I should address them as My Lord, or My Lady. If I know them personally I might  write Dear Lord West or, if I know them really, really well, Dear West.

A dowager baroness is the earliest surviving widow of a peer. If he had a second or even a third wife, they are distinguished by the use of their forename before the title. The former wife of a baron uses her forename before the title. So there is sense in getting it right. If I'm introduced to Lady West, Lady Lavinia West, the Dowager Lady West or Daphne, Dowager Lady West, I ought to be aware of their status within the family.

Enough for one day? I think so.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Those tricky titles

Titles and Forms of Address, 20th edition, is a mine of information for a historical author. It becomes obvious on delving into it that the strange ways of the addressing nobility have a purpose, if not a secret code . Though I shall never be introduced to the Queen, I know that if she speaks to me, I should answer using her title Your Majesty for the first response and subsequently can get away with Ma'am. Should Prince Philip speak to me, I answer with his title Your Royal Highness and subsequently Sir.
If I meet the children of the Queen, the same rule applies - initial response Your Royal Highness and subsequently Sir or Ma'am.
The peerage has five grades - Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and Barons. A hereditary title descends from father to son or grandfather to grandson. Occasionally descent includes the female line. If a cousin succeeds in an ancient peerage, it is because he is descended from some former holder of the title, not because  the previous peer was his cousin. With newer titles, it gets complicated over who might or might not inherit.

All peers have a family name as well as their title. Sometimes they are the same. Sons and daughters of peers use the family name, except in the case of eldest sons of dukes, marquesses and earls. The eldest son takes a courtesy title - in effect he borrows one of his father's lesser titles from the day he is born and uses it as his own.

It is a lot to remember when you are writing an exciting romance. More to come with the next post.